Remember during the 2008 primary campaign how Obama supporters argued that one reason not to elect Hillary Clinton was that she would unite Republicans against her? And that since they hated her so much, they'd wage a scorched-earth campaign against everything she tried to do, miring the country in years of bitter and angry conflict, full of insane and venomous charges that would force the administration to defend itself against the conspiracy theories of an increasingly unhinged opposition? And that they'd work their supporters up into such a lather of hatred that we might see a repeat of the early 1990s, with the rise of right-wing anti-government populism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing?
Good thing we dodged that one.
I bring this up not as a criticism of Obama’s ceaseless efforts to reach across the aisle and treat Republicans like grown-ups who might have an interest in governing. But this outcome shows that some time ago, conservatives stopped believing that any Democratic president could possibly be legitimate. If he won more votes, the election must have been stolen (last November, a Public Policy Polling survey found that 52 percent of Republicans believed that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, while only 27 percent said he won it legitimately). And if there is no actual evidence that such a dramatic and skillful national conspiracy was carried out by an organization so incompetent it can be destroyed by a couple of buffoonish 20-somethings, well then maybe the president isn't an American at all, so that's why he's not legitimate. If he passes a significant piece of legislation, it should be challenged in the courts until a sufficiently activist group of conservative judges can be found to declare it unconstitutional.
This idea – that no election that a Democrat wins or legislation a Democrat passes can be considered legitimate – is a poison running through our national political bloodstream. And before anyone responds, "But wait – some guy once left a comment on Daily Kos comparing George W. Bush to Hitler!", we have to understand the clear difference between the right and the left on this question. That difference lies in what the leaders do. The venom on the right goes all the way to the top. You have Republican members of Congress who nurture the "birther" movement, who tell angry protesters, "Let's beat that other side to a pulp! Let's take them out! Let's chase them down! There's going to be a reckoning!", who encourage violence and argue over and over again that Democratic victories both electoral and legislative should not be accepted.
I wish I had a solution to this problem. But one thing Obama has shown us is that there’s nothing Democrats can do about it, no matter how friendly they try to be. As Reese said about the Terminator, "It can't be reasoned with. It can't be bargained with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop – ever – until you are dead." And I think we can be sure now that it wouldn't be any different if Hillary Clinton were president.
-- Paul Waldman
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